Impact of Higher Education Institutions on Regional Economies: A Joint Research Initiative



Students as Catalysts for City and Regional Growth

August 2007 - Jan 2009

Link to this project's ESRC Award page

Project Team

  • Principal Investigator: Professor Moira Munro, University of Glasgow
  • Co-Investigator: Professor Ivan Turok, University of Glasgow


The Government has set an ambitious target to expand participation in Higher Education to cover 50% of all young people in the UK. This policy, along with independent initiatives by universities to recruit postgraduates and students from abroad, has already seen a very marked increase in student places. In many cities and towns the number of HE students has risen by 40%-50% in the last 10 years. This research proposes to study the impacts of this growth on the local economies and 'host' communities, including the local jobs market, residential neighbourhoods and wider cultural amenities and consumer services. The focus is on cities that were or are in need of industrial diversification and additional population. The aim is to assess the extent of the benefits of student expansion for the wider regions as well. The scale and composition of student expansion will be assessed in terms of the measurable economic impacts on jobs and investment, as well as the intangible effects on the attractiveness of places to inward investors, tourists and mobile workers. The extent to which these effects vary between different HEIs and their local and regional contexts will also be examined. The significance of institutional policies and practices (such as student recruitment patterns) and the state of local labour and property markets will be analysed. The research will also evaluate the regional effects and thereby test the increasingly popular view that cities act as engines of regional growth and prosperity in advanced economies by helping to attract and develop skills, knowledge and investment. Students may be attractive targets for economic regeneration initiatives since their choice of where to study is influenced more by the university and local amenities than by the availability of employment opportunities.

Although student populations are typically transient, this may be precisely what makes them significant. They have different average characteristics from the 'host' population (younger, no dependants, disproportionately more middle class and better qualified), and these characteristics barely change as each annual cohort is replaced by another.

This research seeks to understand the impacts that students can have:

  1. as workers in local businesses
  2. as residents providing a catalyst for neighbourhood change and revitalisation
  3. as consumers creating a demand for diverse new services, and
  4. as contributors to a new image for cities, with more creative 'buzz' and cultural diversity that helps to attract investors, visitors and mobile workers.

The findings will contribute to resolving important policy issues and dilemmas. They will help public agencies and universities to capture the potential benefits of students more effectively within the city and the region, for example by strengthening the relationships with employers and improving the skills match. They will also help these organisations to limit any harmful effects of student expansion, such squeezing local young people out of the jobs market.

Selected Project Outputs

Please see the project's ESRC page for the most up to date information and outputs